Desperate metaphors indeed

2 12 2009

At the Federal Trade Commission’s session on the future of journalism Tuesday, Arianna Huffington gave a speech defending and acclaiming the new media, entitled, “Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, and the Desperate Need for Better Journalism.” As usual, she is witty and cogent.

Later that day, Alexander Howard posited on the Huffington Post a desperate metaphor of his own: new media as the Protestant Reformation.  His point is that just as Martin Luther removed the priestly intermediaries between the faithful and the divine, the new media have freed news consumers from the filters and interpretations of the traditional media. Now, just as Protestants can go straight to Scripture and interpret it on their own — and just as they are encouraged to have a personal, direct relationship with their God — so, too, can consumers go directly to sources and have the power to dig out facts and interpret them on their own.

Howard acknowledges at the outset that he is treading dangerous ground — mainly for the religious implications of his analogy. But I think it suffers more from a grandiose point of view about new media and the “reform” it is bringing. I have yet to be convinced of the qualitative improvement new media brings to journalism. There is precious little news gathering done exclusively in new media that meets the standards of traditional journalism for research, fairness, balance, objectivity and separation of fact from opinion.

A more appropriate historic analogy may be found some 70 years earlier than Martin Luther’s 95 Theses — with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. New media is the result of a technology that gave the masses access to and dissemination of information previously available only to an elite. What they did with the printed word, and whether is was for good or evil, was unrelated to the technology.


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